Rams’ All-America

A case has to be built. And then it has to be presented. Sometimes, it takes two years or even more.

Unless the player is just a freshman or a sophomore with statistics that are rarely seen, All-America selections have been groomed for presentation for years by sports information directors.

Nathan Minnich has raised his batting average to .531.

In the case of Shepherd first baseman Nathan Minnich, the compiling of his credentials has been a compilation of four years.

Minnich is now a senior. He joined the Rams in 2009 as a freshman, coming from Waynesboro, Pa. where he had played in high school for one-time Shepherd outfielder, Greg Chandler.

Finding immediate success, Minnich thundered onto the WVIAC scene with home runs, RBIs, and a batting average that threatened to hover above the .400 mark. Reaching double figures in home runs was a good foundation for a future push toward national honors.

Freshman aren’t often called to NCAA All-America teams. Having never made an impression on any college field, a freshman would need to bat .500 and do it from the outset of his 50-game season.

Minnich laid a high-average foundation as a freshman. The home runs were enough to catch the attention of everybody. His first season had impressed those voters in the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, and Minnich was given all-conference recognition. But he hadn’t batted .500 . . . so his star drew little notice outside his own league.

Shepherd had won the conference tournament symbolic of the WVIAC championship. And All-America selections as a rule come from teams with shiny records or success in Regional tournaments or even the World Series.

As a sophomore, Minnich continued with his home-run swing and his .400-plus batting average. His total base numbers were high and so were his RBIs and total base figures. Minnich’s homers again numbered in the double figures. The WVIAC recognized him again with all-conference mention.

Minnich was periodically named the WVIAC Player of the Week. And those credits were seen by others across the country.

Shepherd finished with a winning season, but it didn’t make any waves on the national scene or in the national polls.

In the summer of 2010, Minnich was a late-season member of the Winchester Royals of the Valley Baseball League. His long balls were remembered by that league’s managers as they filtered back to their respective coaching stations at colleges across the nation.

During Minnich’s junior season, he approached the Shepherd career home run record. With a batting average that was near the .500 mark even in the season’s last 10 days, Minnich and his work as a freshman and sophomore helped to make him the NCAA East Regional Player of the Year.

Only eight players (one from each of the Division II regions) were nominated for the Tino Martinez Award, which is the same as the NCAA Division Player of the Year. Even though Minnich received the least votes of any of the eight candidates, more solid ground work was being laid in his behalf.

Minnich played a whole summer season with the Winchester Royals in 2011. He hit home runs with a wooden bat. Playing at first base instead or being used as a designated hitter, he made only a few errors.

Minnich was not selected in the major league draft of free agents that June. He wasn’t signed to a professional contract after the draft.

He returned to Shepherd for a fourth season.

Early this season, Minnich broke the Shepherd career record for home runs. He quickly moved well past the old standard set by Athletic Hall of Fame member Mike Spry.

Through the first 33 games, Minnich had 16 home runs and had a batting average of .531. In a two-game series against NCAA Division I member George Washington, he went 4-for-7 with a two-run homer that helped the Rams to a 2-1 win over the Colonials.

If Minnich could somehow complete his season with an average above .500, he will be a first-team All-America selection. But batting over .500 is about as difficult as finding a college pitcher with 18 wins in a single season.

Minnich is now so well known that should he keep his batting average above .440 . . . and keep pumping homers out of Fairfax Field . . . he will be named a first-team Division II All-America.

There has never been a first-team, second-team, or third-team NCAA All-America at Shepherd.

Shepherd has never been to the Division II World Series. If it had, Minnich would not need the most eye-catching of statistics because his team would have already gotten national recognition. But without a World Series appearance, Minnich has to maintain his current pace to convince the voters in California or the upper Midwest. Those voters might just spell “Shepherd” as “Shepard”, so little do they know about the school tucked along the Potomac River in the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia.

In his three-plus seasons at Shepherd, Minnich has been consistent as a high-average hitter, a runs producer, and a home run slugger. His consistency has been well documented in his conference and in Shepherd’s region.

Through Shepherd’s first 33 games, Minnich actually led the nation in batting average, home runs, slugging percentage, total bases, on-base percentage, and walks. Six categories where Minnich is the NCAA Division II national leader!

And now Minnich’s consistent past (and present) have been valid enough to bring a first-team All-America spot on the 2012 NCAA Division II list of honorees.

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